Pep Confidential

Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich

By Martí Perarnau

BackPage Press, 2014

PepHaving read Another Way of Winning, Guillem Balague’s biography of Pep Guardiola, I felt pretty familiar with The Philosopher and his work. But Martí Perarnau’s Pep Confidential is another level of intimacy entirely; where Balague offered a well-focused panorama of Barcelona 2008-12, Perarnau delivers the equivalent of Team Cam. Bayern Munich 2013-14 – one year, one team, one very special manager. This is unrestricted access of the kind Castel di Sangro gave Joe McGinniss, combined with intelligent insight of the kind Philippe Auclair provided for Cantona and Henry. Rarely, if ever, has one season been so intricately and rigorously explained.

The detail is extraordinary, if a little overwhelming. Pages and pages are dedicated to training regimes and tactical minutiae. Rondos, pivotes, the False Nine, zonal marking – like the Bayern players, the reader is quickly immersed in Pep’s football ‘language’. Numbers, too, feature heavily – the law of 32 minutes, 4 second pressing, 40m running, 15-pass moves, the 16 ‘starter’ squad, the defensive line starting 45m from goal. There is even a stat for the average amount of time Pep spends gesticulating during a game (70% in case you wondered). And then there are the formations, many of which Pep and his staff invent in the early hours of the morning like mad scientists: 2-3-2-3, 4-1-2-3, 4-2-1-3, the successful 3-6-1 and the disastrous 4-2-4. In November’s 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, Bayern move through four systems in one game.

As well as Pep Master Tactician, Pep Confidential also showcases Pep Master Man-Manager. When his head’s not buried in game plans and video analysis, Guardiola is busy ‘squeezing’ the talent out of his players, whether that be developing his protégé Pierre Højbjerg, massaging the egos of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, consoling the injured, or teaching important new roles to Javi Martinez and the pivotal Philipp Lahm (pun intended). As a result of this generosity of spirit, players are quick to buy into his ideas. Dissenters are few and far between, with Mario Mandzukic the only named rebel. Rather than a stubborn visionary, Pep emerges as an open-minded lover of the game, eager to learn from German football and vice versa.

Pep Confidential feels like the kind of dossier Guardiola himself would love to read about each and every team he faces: exhaustive, repetitive, obsessive to the verge of insanity. 120 pages in and the season is just starting in early August; 300 pages in and the season-defining defeat to Real Madrid is mentioned for the first time. Perarnau opens the book with Guardiola’s fascinating conversations with Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and chess proves a very apt point of reference throughout. ‘Patience and passion. Guardiola’s two main weapons’ – for Pep, perfect football is tac-tac-tac (never to be confused with the dreaded tiki-taka) then pam!, deft midfield dominance leading to incisive, goalscoring chances. The one time he betrays this principle, his team are beaten 4-0 at home by Ronaldo and co. and knocked out of the Champions League. As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge puts it, ‘he deserted the middle of the pitch and opted for much more direct football’. On this occasion, Perarnau loudly condemns Pep’s choice of tactics, but then Guardiola has always been his own harshest critic.

As brilliant a portrait of Guardiola as it paints, Pep Confidential is perhaps most significant in its study of a team’s momentum over a season. Following on from the treble success under Jupp Heynckes, it’s a story of Bayern Munich trying to maintain focus and desire in the face of exhaustion and complacency. Hot on the heels of the joys of March, come the woes of April. As Perarnau concludes, ‘a team is a living entity, not a frozen image. It grows and flows, retreats and advances – a team is the sum of all its successes.’

Buy it here

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Seven Features of a Truly Memorable Match

Considering this is a blog about football books, I feel I’ve been remarkably restrained about discussing Fever Pitch. Until now that is. In his landmark work, Nick Hornby picks out what he sees as the ‘Seven Features of a Truly Memorable Match’. They are:

  1. Goals
  2. Outrageously bad refereeing decisions
  3. A noisy crowd
  4. Rain, a greasy surface, etc.
  5. Opposition misses a penalty
  6. Member of opposition team receives a red card
  7. Some kind of ‘disgraceful incident’

22 years on, I’ve enlisted the very generous help of my favourite sports writers and novelists to put together an alternative list.

1. The diva tantrum
By Nick Quantrill, author of the Joe Geraghty crime novels, “Broken Dreams”, “The Late Greats” and “The Crooked Beat”

Hull City 0-0 QPR, 29th January 2011

Laughs at Hull City matches during 2010/2011 were in short supply. Freshly relegated from the Premier League and facing financial meltdown, the club was undergoing rapid change with faded showman, Phil Brown, replaced by the Nigel Pearson’s dour pragmatism.

QPR arrived at the KC Stadium as champions-elect, and with star man, Adel Taarabt, in fine form. The game itself followed the established pattern of a lot of huff with little skill, but all eyes remained firmly on Taarabt. Starting out wide, he struggled to make an impact on the game as two well-organised banks of four hurried and hassled him with vigour and energy.

Waving his arms theatrically in the air when a pass wasn’t delivered on a plate into his feet, and seemingly taking offence at every possible opportunity, Taarabt’s every reaction provoked cheers from a home support sensing some sport to be had from enquiring as to where his dummy had gone. Electing to turn his back on the game and simply walk up and down the touchline, taking no further part in proceedings, Taarabt upped the ante, slowly heading across the pitch in the direction of the bench, signalling that he’d simply had enough for the day and wanted to be substituted.

Throwing his gloves to the floor only served to bring more howls of laughter from the home support, but any suggestion he was carrying an injury was banished when he showed a sudden interest in taking a free kick on the edge of the area. After jostling with his own teammates and receiving a warning for his actions from the referee, he hilariously slammed the ball into Row Z before the half-time whistle finally put him out of his misery.

Post-match, a preening Neil Warnock, pumped full of self-interest and misplaced fury, bizarrely placed the blame squarely at the feet of the home support for antagonising his star man. Nice try, Mr Warnock, but for all the laughs it provided, a quite unique and incredible tantrum from a player whose career is unlikely to match the heights he imagines for himself in his own head.

Watch footage here

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2. The mild pitch invasion
By Anthony Clavane, sportswriter for the Sunday Mirror and author of Promised Land: A Northern Love Story and Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?

Leeds 1-2 West Brom, 17 April 1971

Leeds United lost the title to Arsenal by a single point in the 1970-71 season. This was blamed on a referee called Ray Tinkler, who failed to spot Colin Suggett being about 15 yards offside before Jeff Astle tapped in the West Brom winner in a 2-1 win for the Baggies at Elland Road.

I’ll never forget the Leeds manager Don Revie shaking his head in disbelief and looking up to the sky, before imploring the linesman to put right the wrong and get Tinkler to change his mind. A few fans, several of whom were middle aged, invaded the pitch, which led to Leeds having to play their first four matches of the following campaign away from their fortress. In the post-match interview the Don refused to condemn the invasion. He said a whole season’s graft had been undermined by one terrible decision. His interviewer, the brilliant Barry Davies, appeared to sympathise. That night, on Match of the Day, Davies screamed: ‘Leeds will go mad, and they have every justification for going mad! Don Revie, a sickened man. Just look at him, looking at the heavens in disgust!

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3. The unlikely goal from a club stalwart
By Gareth R. Roberts, author of That Immortal Jukebox Sensation and What Ever Happened to Billy Parks?

Liverpool 2-1 Borussia Monchengladbach, May 25 1977

This was the greatest season in Liverpool’s history. This was the year when every obsessive minute, lovingly employed by first Bill Shankly, and then Bob Paisley, came to fruition; this was the season when Liverpool threatened to sweep all before them. By the first week of May, incredibly, they were still in the race for a unique and amazing treble: the League, the FA Cup and the European Cup.

The League was won after a goalless draw with West Ham at Upton Park, leaving Liverpool facing two finals in a week: first up, Man United at Wembley – the old Lancastrian enemy, an epic final in brilliant sunshine on a pitch burned yellow by a spring heatwave. Sadly for Liverpool fans, it was United who lifted the Cup after the flukiest of winners off Jimmy Greenhoff’s, not insubstantial, backside.

The challenge for Bob Paisley’s men was to physically and emotionally lift themselves to face Monchengladbach in Rome three days later. The Germans were a force in European football with the likes of Vogts, Heynkes, Stielike, Bonhof and the wonderful Dane Allan Simonsen.

Liverpool, though, had a couple of cards up their sleeves – one, was the incredible support of thousands of Scousers. The stories of Liverpudlians using every ruse going and every mode of transport possible to get to Rome are legendary.  The other card they had was an indomitable spirit, and no-one personified this spirit more than Tommy Smith.

Smith, a Liverpool man born and bred, had been at the club as a schoolboy when Bill Shankly arrived and started to create the legend. Smith had played in every position, and fulfilled every role at Anfield. He was so hard that they said that he wasn’t born, he was quarried. He had a fearsome reputation during a time when an absence of cameras and more lax refereeing meant that footballers could sort things out in a more cynical way. That night, May 27th 1977, was to have been Tommy’s 600th and last game, the Anfield Iron was hanging up his boots to slide into the oblivion of retirement. Of course, no one who had ever watched him play expected him to go gently into that good night, not that night, no, the sentiment of the occasion would have no effect on him, he would be as committed as he was in his previous 599 appearances; but no one expected him to score a goal either, because, with the exception of a handful of penalties, one thing Tommy Smith wasn’t renowned for, was his goalscoring. In his 599 appearances he had scored less than twenty goals.

The match kicked off, Liverpool were nervous; Simonsen looked dangerous, quick and elusive. Clemence had to dive to his right to save from Heynkes then Bonhof hit the post, before the wonderful McDermott put the reds ahead with a crisp shot after a perfect run into the area. The lead looked tenuous and sure enough Simonsen sneaked between a couple of defenders to level in the second half.  Now Monchengladbach were in the ascendency, Bonhof and Stielike were starting to exert their silken influence in the midfield – Heynkes was looking increasingly dangerous. This was the period when games are won and lost, this was the time when the pendulum of pressure can swing either way. Only one team can win a cup, and the Germans were looking the more likely.

Then Liverpool won a corner on the left, Steve Heighway lined the ball up and raised his arm. Smith and Hughes made their way into the penalty area. The ball sailed towards the six yard box. The ball travelled through the air. The ball. Heading on its way to assist in a moment of immortality. Smith rose. He leapt like he’d never leapt before. He timed his jump perfectly, he met the ball like the greatest centre forward that ever lived, like Lofthouse or Mortensen or Law and put the ball into the net. What a moment. What a career. An unexpected goal from a true hero.

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4. The goal celebration
By Matt Oldfield, editor of OfPitchandPage

Chelsea 1-0 Middlesbrough, 21st August 1996

With Hoddle taking over from Venables as England boss, The Blues decided to promote Ruud Gullit to player-manager. What the dreadlocked Dutch legend lacked in managerial experience, he made up for in continental connections. Frank Leboeuf, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo were the first to arrive; what these medal-winning internationals thought of their new teammates (Frank Sinclair, Andy Myers, Eddie Newton) one can only imagine. It was a unique blend, and expectations were high. A dull 0-0 away at Southampton was hardly the dream start we were looking for, and things weren’t looking much better back at The Bridge. Chelsea were heading towards another goalless draw, struggling to break down a Middlesbrough side sporting a few new stars of their own in Brazilian midfielder Emerson and Vialli’s former Juve strike partner Fabrizio Ravanelli.

With 85 minutes gone, Di Matteo, making his home debut, receives the ball about thirty yards from goal, dead centre, one defender in front, one fast approaching behind. With calm assurance, the Italian works an inch of space and rockets a drive into the bottom left corner. An excellent, pinpoint finish, but that’s only half the story. In the resulting frenzy, Di Matteo lies nonchalantly on the grass with his left arm pointing up at the sky. Captain Dennis Wise follows his example, as do Jody Morris and Dan Petrescu. Leboeuf throws himself down next to them, limbs spread like a starfish, and defensive partner Erland Johnsen crouches behind him, again with that left hand pointing. It was a team celebration like no other; the revolution had begun. Two months later, Gullit signed Gianfranco Zola. The rest is history.

Chelsea celebration

5. The non-celebration
By Martin Greig, one half of BackPage Press and author of Road to Lisbon and The Zen of Naka: The Journey of a Japanese Genius

Celtic 1-1 Spartak Moscow (Celtic win 4-3 on penalties), 29th August 2007

There is a photograph of the Celtic players seconds after they have secured qualification for the group stages of the Champions League against Spartak Moscow at Celtic Park. Artur Boruc has just saved Maksym Kalynychenko’s penalty in the shoot-out, having earlier kept out Egor Titov’s. Lined up in a row across the halfway line, they have all started to run towards the Polish goalkeeper to celebrate. When his Celtic team-mates reach Boruc, there is a mass pile-on involving all the players and coaching staff. Well, not quite all of them. Shunsuke Nakamura – who had missed a penalty in the shootout and three chances during extra-time – smiles briefly then walks straight off the park with his head bowed.

Afterwards, Nakamura said: “I did not celebrate with the other players at full-time. I was really disappointed with myself because I missed so many chances during the game. I missed three in as many minutes. I sat and thought about what happened and what I had done.”

The concept of group responsibility is huge in Japan. From a young age, Japanese are indoctrinated with the idea that their group, whether it be a corporate organisation or football team, even a political party, is of paramount importance. Group responsibility dictates that an individual feels worse about damaging their group and colleagues than they do about the personal impact it will have on them.

In British football, a player who refuses to celebrate after scoring against a former club achieves respect. That night, Nakamura took the ‘non-celebration’ to new levels.

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6. The inexplicable defeat
By David Winner, author of Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football, Stillness and Speed: Dennis Bergkamp and #2Sides: Rio Ferdinand

Holland 1-2 West Germany, 7th July 1974

The 1974 World Cup Final, where Holland lost after taking the lead in the first bloody minute! It was two minutes before a German even touched the ball and the Dutch still lost! 40 years on and I’m not over it at all. I still replay scenes from that match. Cruyff and co. never won a World Cup and it gnaws away. If they had, they’d probably have won two or three because they’d have had that habit of winning. The ‘beautiful losing’ started that afternoon. Previously, they were unstoppable like their direct successors, the recent Spain and Barcelona sides. But that Dutch team never recovered. Years later when I met the players, they’d speak very calmly about everything else in their careers but when they got to that game, it was like hitting a wall. It was a tragedy and you didn’t need to be Dutch to feel it; even some Germans weren’t that thrilled.

I’m also old enough to remember the shock and grief surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. I made the comparison in a speech I gave in Holland at the Johan Cruyff University 10 years ago and I joked about my ‘quite frankly unforgivable bad taste in mixing up a moment of genuine trauma and national tragedy with the mere shooting of a politician’. I felt very bad for saying it but I can honestly say that the Dutch defeat has had more of an impact on me over the years. I still feel it even now.

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7. The “couldn’t have scripted it better” ending
By Tom Oldfield, author of Cristiano Ronaldo: The £80 Million Man, Nadal: The Biography and Arsene Wenger: The Unauthorised Biography of Le Professeur

Southampton 3-2 Arsenal, 19th May 2001

It was with mixed feelings that Southampton were bringing down the curtain on 103 memorable years at The Dell. Moving to a sparkly new 32,000-seater stadium represented an important step forward for the club but The Dell had become a huge part of Southampton’s identity over the years (and, at times, a trump card in avoiding relegation). It just added to the occasion that the visitors were a star-studded Arsenal side featuring Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira.

It was already an emotionally-charged afternoon – and then, with 17 minutes to go, Southampton manager Stuart Gray cranked the atmosphere up another notch by bringing on substitute Matt Le Tissier, the man nicknamed “Le God”, who had saved so many seasons for Saints over the years with moments of genius, scoring 208 goals along the way. Bringing him off the bench seemed like a nice chance for the fans to show their appreciation.

But, with the game heading for a 2-2 draw, Le Tissier had one more trick up his sleeve. In the 89th minute, a long ball bounced enticingly just inside the penalty area and the Southampton number 7 swivelled to smash a left-footed half-volley into the top corner. Cue pandemonium at The Dell. When the final whistle sounded minutes later, Southampton fans completed an unforgettable day with a joyous pitch invasion. They could not have scripted it better. The Dell would soon be gone, but the memories would live on.

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Club Soccer 101

Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats, and Stories of 101 of the Greatest Teams in the World

By Luke Dempsey

W.W. Norton, 2014

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When I think of football reference books, I picture a library of fat, blue, abandoned Rothmans Yearbooks collecting thick cloaks of dust. Like the knife-sharpening man, the concept of football facts on paper has surely been put out of business, hasn’t it? After all, websites like Squawka and Opta can provide you with more detailed and more up-to-date information at the mere touch of a button, and for free. Faced with this burgeoning stat market, Soccer 101 is a very pleasant reminder that reference books need not be dry, monumental and costly. Luke Dempsey’s labour of love gives the lowdown on 101 of the world’s greatest club sides in less than 450 pages of a nice, waxy paperback (£9.99). Excluding the acknowledgements, appendices and index, it works out at 4.16 pages per team (no charge for that calculation!).

Of course, this can only be achieved by sacrificing a bit of depth for X-Factor. The selection is strong and the writing is sharp and witty, full of wry asides and great anecdotal particulars. Dempsey pokes gentle fun at the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Felix Magath, ‘Woy’ Hodgson and Alexi Lalas, plus more risqué fun at Copenhagen’s initials (FCK). The surprise inclusion of Norwich City is worth it for the description of ‘one-hit wonder’ Jeremy Goss’ winner against Bayern Munich in the 1993 UEFA Cup: ‘It was a result no one imagined could happen; it was German arrogance in the face of plucky little Brits dressed like birds.’ Other highlights include Eusebio’s sportsmanship, Duckadam’s penalty heroics and Amadei, the 15-year-old baker. To tell you which clubs they played for would only spoil the treasure trove experience.

There is plenty of more serious content too, however. Pinochet’s Colo Colo, Franco’s Real Madrid, Il Duce’s Lazio, World War Two’s ravaging of Central and Eastern Europe; Soccer 101 establishes the important political contexts that define the present day. As brief as the club summaries are, the key details are all there for the budding football historian: ‘the stars, stats and stories’, as the subtitle suggests. Each team’s section begins with a fact file – location, date of origin, nicknames, stadium (with capacity), home colours, leading goal-scorer and most-capped player. Sadly, there are a few blanks for the less-celebrated teams but it’s a tiny hole in the overall fabric.

Soccer 101 is the perfect companion for football nights home and away, familiar and exotic – Arsenal in the Premier League, Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Cruz Azul in the World Club Championship, Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League. Dempsey’s guide is a must for fans world over, a reference book that’s guaranteed to be well-thumbed.

Buy it here

David Winner Interview

WinnerAs the proverb goes, from small beginnings come great things. With wires seemingly crossed, I was ready to give up on my interview with Mr Winner, author of Brilliant Orange, Stillness and Speed by Dennis Bergkamp and now #2Sides by Rio Ferdinand. I’d left the warmth of the Tricycle Theatre café and was about to enter Kilburn station when he called. Full of apologies, he asked if I’d had dinner. Ten minutes later, we were discussing Ronald Koeman’s Southampton team in an Afghan restaurant. Two hours later, I made my way back to the tube after an evening of lively football conversation with one of football’s most innovative writers and nicest men. Sadly, I only recorded about half an hour of our meal – here are the best bits:

Q. First things first, how did the project come about?

There were two other writers who were going to do it but for whatever reason, they couldn’t. Then in March, the publisher came to me and said ‘Can you do this in 3 months?’

Q. Had Rio read Stillness and Speed?

I’m not sure if he had or his people had, but they certainly knew of it. I guess that was the only reason to come to me, because I have no Manchester United connections and I didn’t know Rio. But it was nice that way. We have all of these silly prejudices as football fans, which is part of the fun but it also stops you seeing nice things. Talking with Rio every day and entering his mind was a bit like Stockholm Syndrome; you come to share their viewpoint. I started to feel very warmly towards United, when he spoke about Scholes and ‘Giggsy’. At one point I caught myself saying ‘Scholesy’ and I realised all of my Arsenal friends would actually disown me! When he spoke about Ferguson, I was seeing it through his eyes and I thought, yes, what a fantastic man. Not just a great manager, but a wonderful man. When it counted, he always did the right thing. To hear Rio’s view of Ferguson, you understand why he inspired his players. I rather love Ferguson now.

Q. How did the process work?

We did it mostly on the phone. We met initially, and there was one full day we had in Wilmslow, sat in the upstairs room of a pub, which was uncannily similar to the café in Holland where I used to talk to Dennis [Bergkamp]. But mostly we would speak on the phone while Rio was driving to training. He would drop his kids at school and then there was another half hour to Carrington. I’d know to stop when I could hear kids asking him for autographs.

Q. What was Rio like to work with?

He’s a very warm guy and I think he enjoyed the process. He’s rapidly maturing; you can see him growing before your eyes every time he’s on TV. He’s very outward-looking and he’s very curious about everything, not just football. He’s got his creative side with the magazine, his charity side (which is not just for show – it’s really important to him), and then there’s film, music, fashion. I don’t think he knows exactly what he’s going to do in the end but he’ll do something remarkable. There’s talk about him becoming the British representative for FIFA now, which would be very interesting. He’s very smart and very engaged in a nice way.

Q. The book feels very candid. Was there anything he didn’t want to discuss or asked to be removed?

He’s very open but there were a few things that he spoke about that he later decided he didn’t want to include for various reasons. One was a bit about a family holiday in Portugal with Anton and he wanted his brother to be a big part of the chapter. But when it was all done, Rio decided that with Anton back playing in England, he didn’t need any more shit. So everything Anton had said was either cut or put into Rio’s voice. There was also a bit of David Moyes stuff, a few unflattering observations and incidents that he wanted to cut out. He said he liked the guy and didn’t want to ‘cut his legs off’. Because it’s completely not a ‘settling scores’ book.

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Q. Was it a conscious decision to avoid a traditional chronological approach?

There is a sort of rough chronology, in that it starts with childhood and ends with now. But in the middle of that, it can go anywhere. One of the things I hate about a lot of football biographies and autobiographies is that tedious structure where they start with some career highlight and then they just plod through the youth team, getting discovered, getting into the first team…It’s almost season by season and sometimes it’s just match reports. I can’t read them; I have a severe allergic reaction.

Rio had published a book eight years ago with a Sun journalist and it was done in a very skilful, ‘Sun’ way. Perhaps it was more accurate of who he was then, but he’s certainly not remotely like that now. So my pitch to Rio was ‘Look, I think there are all these different aspects of you and you’re not this tabloid character’. I told him to say whatever came into his head and think of it like scenes from a film; we wouldn’t know how it would all fit together until we had it all. He liked that approach. And the very first thing that he talked about was playing in the park with much older African guys, which turned out to be a perfect opening for the book.

I thought there would be more of a masterclass on the art of defending but that didn’t really develop. I had that experience with Dennis where he could break things down micro-second by micro-second and analyse from every angle, but I don’t think anyone else can do that.

Q. How did you find the ghostwriting process, compared to the biographer role for Stillness and Speed?

It’s much less work! With Dennis, it was a much more complicated process because there were lots of people to interview and I was sharing material with Jaap Visser, who was doing the Dutch version. With Rio, the main thing was to find the voice. He tells a lot of stories in reported speech but every time he speaks in the words of someone else, they all sound like Rio! So Fergie sounds like he grew up on an estate in Peckham, and so does Ronaldo. I couldn’t keep all of the distinctive parts of his speech but it was about taking the original style and making it flow better. When I took him a first, experimental chapter, Rio did a really clever thing. He read it aloud, and then said, ‘Yeah, that’s my voice’.

Once we’d agreed on the template, it was actually quite quick. I had about 25 hours of transcript and it was like a jigsaw puzzle, working out what could go with what to form a chapter. Then afterwards we worked out the order. At first, the publisher wanted to have a ‘juicy’ chapter first but Rio didn’t like that idea and neither did I. We wanted a book that reflected him accurately, in the same way that the Bergkamp book reflected Dennis very accurately. There, the idea was that he would play off other people in the same way that he did on the pitch. With Rio, he wanted to change his image and show he wasn’t just that guy who forgot the drugs test.

Buy #2Sides here

The Premier League in Books – Part One

Arsenal

With such rich literary connections, Arsenal is a nice easy place to start. For historical accounts, try Patrick Barclay’s The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman, or Nick Hornby’s 90s classic Fever Pitch. If it’s modern player portraits you’re after, you’ll find few better than Tony Adams’ Addicted (with Ian Ridley), Dennis Bergkamp’s Stillness and Speed (with David Winner), and Lonely at the Top, Philippe Auclair’s biography of Thierry Henry. And if all that’s not enough, Amy Lawrence’s Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season is undoubtedly one of 2014’s best Christmas gifts.

Invincible

Aston Villa

Despite being one of the Premier League’s perennial few, the Villains have made little contribution to the literary canon. In my humble opinion, that’s because the likes of Mark Draper, Julian Joachim and Alan Wright have so far steered clear of the confessional. A few, however, such as Gareth Southgate (Woody and Nord), Stan Collymore (Tackling My Demons) and Dwight Yorke (Born To Score), have been more communicative. Paul McGrath’s candid Back From The Brink is the pick of an average bunch. Perhaps Gabby Agbonlahor will one day right this wrong.

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Burnley

Same colours, same dearth of books. Thank goodness for Clarke Carlisle. His You Don’t Know Me, But… is an excellent, warts-and-all look at the realities of lower league football. Carlisle’s happiest and most successful years were at Turf Moor: ‘Owen [Coyle] came in and completely shifted the dynamic. His focus was on total enjoyment. It was fun at training, something a lot of the squad hadn’t encountered for a few years. This change led to a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is a productive one…We were definitely a classic example of a team whose total was greater than the sum of its parts.’

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Chelsea

It always surprises me how little of note has been written about the Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge. Until the arrival of beige autobiographies from John Terry and Frank Lampard, we’ll have to make do with the managers. Ruud Gullit: The Chelsea Diary and Mourinho on Football are entertaining reads, but Carlo Ancelotti: The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius is the pick of the bunch. Although largely based around his time in Italy, the book ends with the brilliantly named chapter ‘Summoned by Abramovich’.

Ancelotti

Crystal Palace

Where the Eagles are concerned, Simon Jordan’s Be Careful What You Wish For soars head and shoulders above the rest. Mobile phone entrepreneur Jordan bought Palace in 2000 at the tender age of 36 and took them back to the Premier League. Ten years later, he was bankrupt and his club was in administration. This explosive and revelatory book will appeal to all football fans with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes, but it will mean the most to the long-suffering Selhurst Park faithful.

Jordan

Everton

This year has seen the publication of four books about Toffees heroes: Kevin Kilbane’s Killa, How Football Saved My Life by Alan Stubbs, Ossie by Leon Osman and best of all, In Search of Duncan Ferguson by Alan Pattullo. Here’s a juicy sample from the beginning: ‘Everton got under his skin. He would never ever forget how it felt to soar into the air, to head that first goal against Liverpool, before sinking to his knees with joy and relief in front of the Gwladys Street End; the legend before the player, the rise before the fall. On the same date 12 months later, he was languishing in jail.’

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Hull City

If a book could ever be said to sum up a football club, it would probably be Bend it like Bullard, nearly 300 pages of cult, no-frills entertainment. Here’s Jimmy on his motorway-side scrap with teammate Nicky Barmby: ‘I’d love to be able to say that I sorted him out, but the truth is that it was little more than explosive grappling for a few seconds. As the gaffer said later, it was hardly Ali-Frazier. We both ended up lying on a bush with no real leverage to get out of it.’

Bullard

Leicester City

The Foxes are back in the top flight again but it’s their 90s heyday under Martin O’Neill that provides the literary goldmine. Steve Claridge’s Tales From the Boot Camps is an underrated gem, while Savage! is as entertaining as you’d expect. Apparently, everything slotted into place when he joined Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet in the centre of the park: ‘With those two at my side, I produced my best forty-five minutes in a Leicester shirt…At the final whistle, everyone came over and hugged me. Martin had his arms around my shoulder. “Thank Robbie for getting us to the final”, he said to the others…That was the day I became Robbie Savage, Leicester City footballer. I was accepted by the lads from that moment on, and I still believe we were the best midfield that Leicester have ever had.’

Savage

Liverpool

As befits a club with such history, there’s a long list of options here. For the nostalgics, I’d recommend David Peace’s Shankly epic Red or Dead and Tony Evans’ I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It: Liverpool’s Unforgettable 1983-84. But this Christmas, it’s all about the controversial ex-strikers: Craig Bellamy’s GoodFella (featuring the winning combo of John Arne Riise and a golfclub) and Luis Suarez: Crossing The Line. The Uruguayan’s story promises to be as explosive as his finishing.

Suarez

Manchester City

Unlike Chelsea, City have an excellent book on their recent rise: David Conn’s Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up is a brilliant look at how the football times are a changing, for better or for worse. Beyond that, there’s Blue Moon by Mark Hodkinson about the 98-99 promotion season, and Paul Lake’s I’m Not Really Here, a powerful and cautionary tale which you really don’t need to be a Sky Blue to enjoy.

Conn